Welcome to the Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights.
My name is Alex Marthews. I started this Campaign in June 2012, after becoming a naturalized US citizen.
At the beginning of the century, I was an intern with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and did extensive work on online civil liberties, devising UC Berkeley’s first course on Cyberlaw and writing my thesis on blocking and filtering systems. Since that time, I have grown increasingly worried as governments around the world have taken advantage of the Internet to track ordinary people’s activities ever more closely and systematically. Most notably, the US government has decided that when it comes to our digital data, the Fourth Amendment is dead, and that they can intercept and read all US communications without a warrant and without regard for the law.
The Fourth Amendment reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This is one of our nation’s highest laws. It exists for a reason. In colonial times, the British government would issue “general warrants” allowing colonial officers to ransack people’s homes without probable cause, and then to arrest people on the strength of what they found. These “general warrants” have now made a comeback on a scale unimaginable to the oppressive administration of George III. We are all now presumed guilty until we have proven ourselves innocent.
The normal institutions that should have stopped this from happening are failing. The Republican party supported warrantless wiretapping under Bush, and now cannot easily oppose the same practices under Obama. The Democrats opposed it under Bush, and, with a few honorable exceptions, have failed to oppose it under Obama. The courts have by and large refused to hear lawsuits seeking to stop it, because you don’t have standing to bring a lawsuit unless you can prove that you have been spied upon, but the only people who can tell you that you are being spied upon are the people doing the spying. After the Second Circuit in Amnesty International v. Clapper unexpectedly ruled that plaintiffs did nevertheless have standing, the Supreme Court hurriedly approved the government’s petition to have the case heard in the fall, which ominously suggests that they may have agreed to hear it only in order to finally close off the courts as a venue for redress.
We must therefore ask ourselves as citizens and as defenders of freedom, what we can do to preserve the ability to communicate freely and openly, if neither the political system nor the courts provides an adequate check to a government run amok. As a first step, I will be using my extensive experience running nonprofits to set up the Campaign as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, recruiting volunteers and supporters, and working out how to strengthen the Fourth Amendment in New England. If you would like to help, please contact me at (alex) at (warrantless.org).